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Section Gymnastics: DL and Perham youth movements to square off on Saturday

Perham has been the face of Section 8A at the state gymnastics meet for a decade. Detroit Lakes is looking to be the first team to represent the Section other than Perham since DL was there in 2002. The two teams will meet to decide this year's winner Saturday in Park Rapids at noon. Photos by Robert Williams/FOCUS

There's an aura surrounding the locker room for underclassmen. It's a place to keep one's head down and maybe, just maybe, a junior or senior will pass on a kind word about a performance. The underclassmen are just renting the locker room from upperclassmen.

Not for the Detroit Lakes gymnastics team. Seventh- and eighth-graders own the locker room for the Lakers.

Detroit Lakes has 19 seventh- and eighth-graders - eight more than any team with a top 20 average score in Minnesota Class 1A - to just two upperclassmen. Gymnastics is a sport often dominated by the young, but these 19 aren't just roster fillers.

"They haven't developed as older adults, so some of the things are a bit easier for the younger girls," Detroit Lakes coach Steve Zamzo said. "They gain these skills as littler, younger girls and, as they get older and bigger, they have to re-learn those skills. Some get frustrated. Some it's just tough on their bodies. There isn't a gymnast I know that doesn't have a broken toe or ankle or wrist or finger or has blisters on top of blisters on their hands. They get to the point where it's too much and they choose to stop."

Of the top four varsity spots on the vault, beam, bars and floor exercise, Detroit Lakes has a seventh- or eighth-grader performing in 13 of the 16 spots. The top all-arounder is eighth-grader Molly Lyngass with seventh-grader Emma Disse and eighth-grader Johanna Jernberg backing her up on the bars. The beam is all seventh- and eighth-graders led by Lyngaas and Disse, along with seventh-grader Alexis Ostlie.

The floor is all seventh- and eighth-graders in Lyngaas, Jernberg, Ostlie and eighth-grader Leah Chavez. Jernberg and Ostlie compete on vault, along with sophomores Allison Berg and Hannah Okeson.

They aren't just there to smile either, as the Lakers currently have the eighth-best average score in Class 1A with a 140.875. The Lakers have thrown away the cliche roles of a high school team to push for its first state tournament trip since 2002.

"I would say some of the older girls get frustrated," Zamzo said. "When there's talk of losing spots, we all pull together and talk about what they want to do as a team. They picked going to state as a team and representing Detroit Lakes over them being on varsity. The kids that score the highest are going to compete on varsity."

Abby Einerson is the lone senior and the captain of the squad. She has been on the Detroit Lakes varsity team since she was in seventh grade. With all the young talent, Einerson's varsity action has been narrowed down to the occasional beam appearance.

"It's nice to see that the younger generation is looking up to us and wants to be involved," Einerson said. "It's hard to know that I have lost a couple of spots, but I know it's for the better of the team. It's pushed us older girls to work harder because we want that spot. Our goal is to go down to the state tournament and without some of the younger girls, we wouldn't have that chance.

"What kept me around is knowing that there's people on the team that look up to me and look at me as a role model."

Einerson contributes even if she isn't listed in the final score.

"She really helps out a lot," Disse said. "She keeps us up and keeps us going. She's great to have."

Currently ranked ninth - just 0.567 behind DL - in Class 1A, a familiar Detroit Lakes' foe isn't exactly pushing old age either, as Perham has no upperclassmen on its varsity squad. A team that has given the Lakers fits in Section 8 - seen in eight state championships in the last nine years - the Yellowjackets are poised to keep the rivalry going with nine seventh- and eighth-graders and seven more seventh-graders coming in next season.

"We're blessed with a lot of talent in seventh and eighth grade," Perham coach Charlie Fleck said. "It's kind of rare to be this young, but it's a good future for both Perham and Detroit Lakes. It's a real battle every time we get together, but we have good friendships. I like it, but, when we're on the floor, we're rivals."

Outside of having to get over the Perham hump, the only other thing the Detroit Lakes youngsters will have to get use to is the spotlight.

"Molly Lyngaas is a little too shy to talk to a reporter," Zamzo said. "It's surprising, considering the things she has to do in a leotard."